Those who know my politics will know that I am primarily interested in how different social forces become dominant or lose that dominance, within the ‘superstructure’ of our economy – that is to say, the fields of culture and politics. A key part of this in my own experience of political developments is that of the ‘paradigm shift’, i.e. a deep and embedded change in the makeup of politics and debate. Great examples of this are the birth of Keynesian macroeconimics and welfarism on one hand, and the retrenchment and fragmentation of the New Right and post-fordism on the other.
I don’t think this election represents one of those shifts, because the key requirements of this kind of shift is that your opponents concede your basic propositions, and to an extent that produces real difference. In this sense, the whole stratum of ‘intelligentsia’, left or right, can be seen to occupy a new position on the spectrum as a whole. In Marxist terms, this represents a re-alignment and reconfiguration of the politics of a given bourgeois society – one which usually accompanies change to the economic ‘base’.
Put into terms that more conventional political scientists might understand, in a society where social antagonisms are mainly (and indeed comfortably) expressed through electoral politics and public debate (what Gramsci would term ‘a war of position’) rather than sustained struggles of open political violence (‘a war of maneuvre’), this is the moving of the Overton Window.
Is this happening here? I would say no, the key determinant of the US political process at the moment is its economic relationship with the BRIC economies, which are resulting in a state of frustrated flux and unpredictability.
But the question does seem to be one which is suddenly being contested – which can’t be a bad thing.
So anyway, there are some really interesting NYT pieces about all this and the issues which underlie it. Being the NYT, the comments are often as instructive as the pieces themselves. They are worth a read.
While I’m not convinced that this is a big qualitative shift, let alone an irreversible one, Obama can do a lot to cement in the vaguely left of centre domestic direction he has taken and at least land a big punch on the conservative movement. Firstly, he can pass immigration reform. Secondly, he can make a dash to re-introduce the Fairness Doctrine – and indeed, why not? Thirdly he can introduce new Supreme Court justices, and fourthly, he can use this to clamp down on voter suppression, a disturbing trend which really seems to have taken root, with Republicans all over the place brazenly taking part in gerrymandering, often with obviously racist elements. Fifth, and probably least likely, he can make moves to embed union membership as an essential part of economic life.
He has a hopelessly obstructive House to get past thanks to America’s absurd deadlock-seeking parliamentary system. So let’s see if he can be creative.